AS the Fair Work Commission continues its important review of Australia’s Modern Awards, AMMA’s director of government relations Daniel Mammone outlines the work the resource industry employer group is doing to influence positive and valuable outcomes for employers across the mining, oil and gas sectors.
Modern awards commenced on 1 January 2010 following an award review and modernisation process initiated by the former Labor government. AMMA was the leading employer organisation representing the resource industry and was instrumental in shaping key modern awards for the industry, covering mining, hydrocarbons, the maritime sector, and offshore oil and gas.
The Fair Work Commission (FWC) earlier this year commenced a mandatory four-year review of 122 modern awards, required under s.156 of the Fair Work Act 2009. This is the first four year review under the Fair Work Act and commenced after an interim two year review.
FWC President Iain Ross has indicated that the review will be an “iterative process” which will deal with common claims made by individuals and/or organisation who have an interest in a modern award. The Commission has established a process to review individual awards, which have been grouped in four separate stages (award stage), as well as dealing with issues which affect multiple awards (common issues).
AMMA has been involved from the commencement of the review and has also worked with other peak employer organisations, particularly on the common issues.
The ACTU, affiliate trade unions and employer organisations have made multiple claims to vary modern awards. While AMMA has been active in the process and supported a number of employer claims to ensure modern awards are meeting the modern awards objective under the Fair Work Act, particularly in regard to the operation of annual leave under the National Employment Standards (NES), AMMA’s role has focused on ensuring union claims do not create additional or new minimum award obligations which are unworkable, restrictive or inflexible.
To date, the ACTU and affiliates have now lodged a range of significant claims which AMMA and peak organisations such as the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) are defending. These union claims, when considered in aggregate, would result in a net increase in new legal employment obligations. The most alarming ACTU claims would potentially result in new restrictions on the engagement of casual workers (including a right to convert to permanent status after 6 months and a prohibition in an employer increasing the number of casual or part-time employees without first allowing an existing casual or part time employee to increase their normal working hours).
Another significant union claim is an 11th hour attempt to continue the provisions in modern awards which are currently transitional in nature (such as accident pay and district allowances) and due to sunset on 31 December 2014. The ACTU has also indicated that it will seek to supplement the NES on flexible work arrangements, and a new form of paid leave to assist persons affected by domestic/family violence.
The Commission is also considering submissions of the Fair Work Ombudsman (the independent workplace regulator) and also seeking to re-draft awards to ensure they are readable and understandable. However, the process may unintentionally result in alterations which are substantive and affect legal rights and obligations, including potentially increasing costs for employers
There is no statutory cut-off date for the review, however, it is likely that the quantum of claims made by both unions and employer organisations means that the review may not be complete until early 2016.